Book Review: L. Daniel Hawk, Ruth (AOTC 7b)

Hawk, L. Daniel. Ruth. Volume 7B, Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2015. 166 pp. Hb; $30.00.   Link to IVP

The Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series intends to accurately interpret the original text of the Old Testament but also to assist pastors and teachers present the Old Testament in a modern context. Daniel Hawk’s contribution to this series on Ruth is an excellent example of commentary writing. The book is neither too brief nor overly burdened with excessive background materials which have had a tendency to inflate commentaries in recent year.

Hawk, RuthHawk begins his twenty-six page introduction to the book by surveying suggestions for the purpose and form of the book. Since the book is somewhat unique in the Hebrew Bible, scholars have suggested a variety of narrative forms for the book (short story, novella, folk-tale) as well as a range of possible purposes for the book (apology for David’s Moabite ancestry, a kind of resistance literature against narrow views of Jewish identity, etc.) Hawk concludes Ruth “resists classification” and “invites the readers to understand its story in conversation with a variety of other texts in the biblical canon” (20). In fact, it is Ruth’s ethnicity which drives the plot of the book. Hawk argues “Ruth takes aim not only at the Deuteronomic legislation that forbids includes of Moabites but also the ascriptions behind it” (23). For example, Ruth 3 reverses the archetypical Moabite woman stalking a Judean male. Ruth is not a threat, but acts faithfully and is eventually incorporated into the Jewish community which eventually leads to Israel’s Davidic monarchy. The marriage of Boaz and Ruth assures the reader that embracing the foreigner can open the possibility of restoration and blessing (31).

With respect to composition, Hawk weighs various suggestions (Solomon’s reign; early in David’s reign; Josiah’s reign, during the exile). He observes the apologetic purpose of the book is speculative and does not necessarily support an early date. In fact, Hawk argues there is a direct textual connection rhetorical agenda of Ruth and “the anxiety about the threat of foreign women as reflected in Ezra and Nehemiah” (33). Hawk follows several recent commentaries on Ruth by concluding the book is “a narrative of dissent” written in response to the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah” despite the last of polemic (36). Although the book was not written until well after the events it narrates, Hawk things the traditions represented by the book are authentic (39).

Hawk offers a brief summary of the theology of Ruth (39-43).  He begins by examining the standard theology of Ruth which focuses on God as active in the background of the book, providentially causing various events in the story. He suggests are more nuanced view of Ruth’s theology by focusing on the theme of hesed, which Hawk defines as the “passionate devotion, an unqualified decision for someone else expressed by specific and tangible actions” (41). The book of Ruth portrays God as responding to humans who demonstrate hesed rather than being the cause of their human actions.

The commentary begins with a new translation of Ruth followed by notes on the Hebrew text. Hawk comments on the qere and ketiv readings in this section. All Hebrew appears in transliteration and notes to secondary literature appear as in-text citations rather than footnotes.

Following the notes on the Hebrew text, Hawk offers observations on form and structure. This section traces the flow of a pericope, going beyond a simple outline but falling short of discourse analysis. Hawk breaks the commentary on Ruth into large, chapter length units so this attention to the flow of drama of Ruth is important step in the commentary.

After his comments on the structure of a pericope, Hawk offers a commentary on each sub-pericope within the chapter. This section is a running commentary on the story, including cultural and historical context, insight into the Hebrew words and syntax, etc. Although reference to secondary sources are minimal (using in-text citations), Hawk demonstrates a clear understanding of the Hebrew text of Ruth as well as the Ancient Near Eastern context which illuminates the story.

The final section in each section of the commentary is an explanation of the text. These are theological and practical observations based Ruth. For example, in the explanation for chapter 1, Hawk discusses the problem of resident aliens and suffering in the Old Testament. For chapter 2 his focus is on hospitality and the foreign woman (Boaz’s kindness toward Ruth), oppression of the poor for chapter 3 and finally a few comments on the flexibility of the law for chapter 4 (Boaz marries a foreign woman yet is blessed). Each of these brief sections are tied directly to the story of Ruth and are reasonable and clearly based on his reading of the text of Ruth. Hawk does not take the opportunity to draw application to specific, real-work situations to which the book of Ruth might speak. For example, treatment of the poor and immigration are modern issues which Ruth directly applies, I would have expected a more specific attempt to “bridge the gap” between Ancient Near Eastern practice and modern problems Christians face.

My second observation is a positive benefit of this commentary, although not all readers will necessarily agree. Although he recognizes Ruth is an ancestor of Jesus, this commentary is not overtly theological or Christological. Recent theological readings of Ruth can overplay inter-canonical theology and potentially miss the rich theology of hesed Hawk develops in this commentary.

Conclusion. Hawk’s commentary will serve scholars, pastors as well as laymen as they read and study the book of Ruth. Although it is faithful to the Hebrew text of Ruth, it is not overly technical nor is it distracted by social issues Ruth extraneous to the theology of Ruth.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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